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Reinsdorf's opposition not enough to save MLB pensions

Owners set to approve plan to abolish pension plan for non-uniformed personnel

Jerry Reinsdorf
Jerry Reinsdorf
David Banks

Jerry Reinsdorf is one of the most influential owners in baseball. His influence comes from, in large measure, his close relationship with Commissioner Bud Selig, as well as being one of the principal owners with the lengthiest tenure.

Last year, Reinsdorf used that influence to nix a proposal to eliminate pensions for non-uniformed personnel - basically anyone in baseball operations, from front office executives on down to scouts. To wit:

The first attempt to do so, initiated last year by a small-market owner, was voted down after Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf chastised his brethren for being petty with the lives of ordinary people given the riches produced by the sport.

[You can safely read "small-market owner" as "Kansas City Royals owner and former Wal-Mart CEO David Glass."]

Apparently Reinsdorf's influence was only enough to stave off this money-grab for one year.

A second vote, which was intended to be kept secret, is now scheduled to take place at owners meetings May 8-9 in New York.

A majority of owners now favor the abolition of the pension plan, a source said.

Reinsdorf is notoriously a bit of penny-pincher when it comes to uniformed personnel. For years, he kept the club's draft spending in check and adhered almost without exception to the slot system in effect prior to the most recent CBA. And he hasn't opened his pockets to many big-name free agents.

But at least he keeps some sense of proportionality. The White Sox have always taken care of their employees, most of whom aren't in a line of work where millions of dollars are a real outcome. For example, Reinsdorf had 432 World Series rings made for the organization and, unlike some other World Series champs *cough* Giants *cough*, he didn't provide a stripped-down ring for "lesser" employees.

The most public (and touching) example of his generosity towards his employees comes from his other day job. He named the Bulls' practice facility after his long-time assistant, Sheri Berto, when she died suddenly following a botched surgery. Berto left behind a 3-year-old daughter and, to help her remember a mother she barely knew, Reinsdorf literally had a book written about Berto.

Reinsdorf, though, isn't the only driving force in the organization for helping out the lesser known cogs in the MLB machine. Part-owner Dennis Gilbert and front office executive Dave Yoakum co-founded the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation, which helps baseball scouts who have fallen on hard time due to job loss, illness, retirement or other setbacks. Which will probably be seeing an increase in business in the future with the abolition of pensions.

Roland Hemond, during his tenure as White Sox GM, can count among his many accomplishments that he was one of the main driving forces for MLB putting in place a pension for non-uniformed personnel in 1981.

What MLB is planning to do, of course, is in line with what employers have been doing for the last 35 years, which is eliminate defined benefit plans in favor of defined contribution plans (or no plans). But there aren't many industries out there growing at the rate MLB is.

Existing pension obligations would not be affected by this vote, only future obligations. For the sake of White Sox employees, I hope Reinsdorf elects to keep a defined benefit plan. An $8 billion (and growing) industry certainly should be able to afford it.